Friday, August 18, 2017

Letterman On Stern | Lefsetz Letter

We underestimate talent.

Used to be we were looking for the unique voice, now me-tooism reigns. Maybe it’s the millennial ethos of fitting in, where boomers were all about being square pegs in a round hole, letting their freak flags fly.

And technically, David Letterman is a baby boomer.

Now most people leave TV and are instantly forgotten. Did Jay Leno really host the “Tonight Show”? And does anybody under forty even know who Johnny Carson was? And to tell you the truth, I was addicted to Dave at 12:35, but ultimately lost interest at 11:35, the show was slicker, less wacky and more formulaic, but then Dave retired.

And grew a hillbilly beard and morphed into a cantankerous grandpa that we just cannot get enough of, even though we know so little.

And I’ve stopped watching late night TV all together, except for Bill Maher and John Oliver on HBO, the former because he’ll speak the truth, the latter because he goes so deep, and Maher’s “New Rules” is far superior to “Weekend Update” and Oliver created a new formula and that’s what late night talk shows have become, a formula.

But they weren’t when Dave took over. Or at least he shook them up. He turned late night into a comedy show, with bits, but now he’s into interviewing like his predecessor and mentor Johnny.

But I don’t need to repeat Dave’s CV, his history, other than to say he’s signed a deal for six shows with Netflix. Netflix stole comedy from HBO and Disney is delusional if it believes we’re gonna pay a separate fee to view their wares. In music we have everything in one place for one small monthly fee, in TV/movies it’s like being pecked to death by ducks. Hell, I’d cut the cord if Spectrum didn’t charge me almost as much just for internet, it’s a racket I tell you.

And Howard gets overeager with these big celebrities, he wants to get all his questions in, but Dave hung back, didn’t interrupt, waited for calm to appear, and then cracked one funny joke after another.

Well, not that quickly. It wasn’t Rodney Dangerfield rat-a-tat-tat. He waited for his moments, and then without set-up, without announcing he was gonna drop one, he came out with lines so funny I burst out laughing, even though I was listening on headphones and no one else was there.

Howard brought up Dave’s mother Dorothy’s death. Letterman said she died at 96. That she was playing racquet ball just the day before.

You almost believed him. After all, she seemed so young and healthy on his show.

But of course it wasn’t true. And the way Dave revealed this was both self-deprecatory and hysterical at the same time. As if you were in the basement with your teenage buddies and your friend had gotten you with a joke.

This was not brief.

That’s why Dave said he wouldn’t go on talk shows. Because the producer would say he had to fill eight minutes, with previously delineated stories, there could be no holes. Whereas on satellite, which I listened to via the app, when I wanted to, on demand, Letterman could stretch out.

He didn’t want to leave.

A pro knows when to go. After eighty minutes Dave took his exit. But you could tell this was the highlight of his day. Performers like to perform. And we like to be with people, even if we are famous.

And being famous…

Friends come to visit the Lettermans in Montana. And at the end of the day, Dave, his wife Regina and son Harry do a post mortem, oftentimes asking each other of recalcitrant guests…WHEN ARE THEY GONNA LEAVE?

That’s family, those intimate moments, when you share truth, when you’re all on the same page.

And yes, Dave denigrated guests. Talked about taking up skiing at 63. And the changes in his personality.

Which Howard seconded, talking about himself. One learned more about Howard in this one interview than we do in a year’s worth of shows.

Jerry Seinfeld comes over regularly. Billy Joel too. Howard’s part of the club, and you didn’t lament your loss of status in the gutter with him as much as want to be included in this group.

Howard and Dave both testified about Jerry. How he’s always doing something, breaking the mold. And this was inspirational.

And Howard and Dave talked about Dave’s dinner with Steve. You had no idea who they were talking about, and then Dave said his wife enjoyed it, but didn’t think she could do it again, she felt inadequate, because Steve was so ESTEEMED!

It was Steve Martin.

And there was this great story about going to Jack Paar’s house and realizing the host had gone to bed when Dave and his producer Hal Gurnee were still at the dinner table.

It was old Hollywood. As in an era when our entertainers were much more interesting than our business people. When it was less about wealth than access. When you believed if you could just gain status you too could be graced by the words and jokes of these household names.

Howard and Dave earned their status. And neither of them partake of this access that often. They feel uncomfortable. That’s right, if guests come to your house do you have to entertain them? Do you have to contribute comedy at the dinner table? These guys were just as anxious in social situations as you and me.

But they were talking about it.

You won’t learn how to be famous. There are not a plethora of anecdotes. Dave is a bit hoarse from just flying back from India. But in these days where we’re connected but isolated, typing to each other in front of a screen, it’s a revelation to just hear two people talk.

Especially when one is so skewed and so experienced that he can throw off punch lines that get you squealing.

Yes, these are maladjusted people. You come away believing that Dave really hates himself that much.

But on some level, DON’T WE ALL?


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